Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Dream of the Rood

Listen, the best of dreams    let me tell you
that I met with     near midnight
when the spear-bearers    were sleeping.
I thought I saw    a sparkling tree
lifted on high,    laden with light,
the brightest of trees.    All the beacon was
gilded with gold;    gems gripped it
gleaming across all earth,    and five of them
were on the cross-beam.    I saw an angel chorus,
beautiful creation;    no cruel gallows this:
holy spirits    beheld it there,
men throughout the world    and this wondrous creation.

Sublime, the tree was,    and I was foul with sin,
wounded and filthy.    I saw the wondrous tree
become more beautiful,    bound with streamers,
wound with gold;    gems gathered
nobly covering    the King's tree.
But through the gold    I could glimpse,
though buried by sinfulness,    that it began
to bleed on its right side.    I was racked with sorrow,
afraid before that fair sight;    I saw that fine beacon
change its colours;    it was moisture coated,
furled in flows of blood,    then folded in treasure.

So I lay there    a long while
sorrowfully staring at    the sacred tree,
until I heard    how it spoke;
the celestial wood    was saying these words:

"It was years ago,    or so I remember,
that I was torn    from the trees' edge,
ripped from my root.    Strong enemies gripped me,
made me a spectacle,    swung their criminals from me;
I carried men on my crossbeam    until I was fixed on a crag;
many enemies set me there.    I saw mankind's Lord
walk boldly, quickly,    eager to climb up.
There I could not,    against the Creator's will,
quiver or fall,    though I saw quake
the earth's surface.    I was able
to slaughter all the enemies,    but I stood firm.
The young man, Heaven's King,    cast off his clothes,
strong and firm spirited;    he stood on the gallows
bravely, beheld by many,    to break mankind free.
I trembled as the man embraced me;    I dared not topple to earth,
fall to the ground;    I had to stand fast.
As a cross I was raised,    carrying the mighty king,
heaven's lord.    I could not lean away.
They drove dark nails into me;    the dreadful cuts are still seen,
open, malicious wounds;    I dared not harm one of them.
They insulted us both together;    I was all besmeared with blood
from the man's side    once he sent forth his spirit.
On that hillside     I had to live through
many loathsome fates;    I saw the Lord of Hosts
terribly wracked;    darkness rolled over,
covering with clouds    the Creator's sky;
shadow swallowed    the shining light,
lowering darkness.    All earth lamented,
cried out the King's fall;    Christ was on the Cross.
But then friends    came from far
to the prince;    I perceived it all.
I was torn sorely by sorrows,    but lay down, submitting
with humble spirit.    They called on their high God,
lifted up their tormented burden;    they left me there,
standing stained with blood;    nails stabbed me.

"He had laid down his tired limbs,     they stood by his lordly head;
they gazed at heaven's lord,    and he rested there a while
weary after his great struggle.    They began to work on a tomb
carving it from the stone    in the sight of his slayer.
They set the mighty Lord inside    and began to lament,
wretched as dusk fell,    that they must depart again,
weary, from the renowned lord;    he remained, alone.
We crosses waited there    a long while
on our foundations;    the voice fell still
in the man;    the corpse grew cold,
the beautiful body.    Then men broke us trees
all to the earth;    awful fate!
We were thrown in a deep pit    but the Lord's thanes,
his friends, found us    
and graced me    with gold and silver."

"Now you may hear,    my beloved man,
how wicked men    wore at me
with sore sorrows.    The time has now come
when I will be honoured    far and wide;
men across earth    and all this glorious creation
came to this cross.    On me the King's son
suffered a while;    so I am now worshipped,
towering under heaven,    and I can heal
everyone    in awe of me.
Before, I was given    the hardest blame,
loathed by all,    until I life's way
could clear    for mankind.
So I am honoured    by the holy Lord,
heaven's guardian,    over all great trees,
just as his mother,    Mary herself,
all men's    almighty God
honours above    all womankind."

"Now I bid you,    beloved man,
to voice to the world    this vision,
reveal in words    that this is the wondrous tree
on which the Saviour    suffered
for mankind's    many sins
and Adam's    first act.
He tasted death;    but directly arose
through his great might    to help mankind
on Doomsday.    The Dread Lord himself,
Almighty God    with his angels
Will then judge,    wielding all judgement's power,
each one    according to how
he deserved    in this drifting life.
None may be    boldly unafraid
of the words    the Lord will speak:
he will ask the many there    if each man
dare, for his name,    know death's
bitter taste    as he did on the tree.
They will be afraid then,    and have few thoughts
of what they could    say to Christ.
None there    need fear
if they bear in their breast    the holy beacon;
through that cross    heaven's kingdom
each soul    will seek from earth
that is willing    to worship the Lord."

Then I bowed before the tree    with blissful spirit,
all eagerly,    there alone
without company.    I was keen
to depart this life    and spent many days
in longing.    It is now my life's joy
that I might seek    that sacred tree
more often    than all other men
to do it honour.    I desire that
much in my spirit,    and my protection is
the cross's rule.    I have remaining
few friends on earth,    but they have gone forth
careless of earth's joys    to find the wondrous King;
they live now in heaven    with the High Father
thinking on wonder;    and I wish for
that day    when the dreamed-of cross
that I saw    stand before me on earth
will fetch me    from this feeble life
and bring me    to where there is great bliss,
joy in heaven,    to join the Lord's people
always sitting    in unceasing bliss.
I will sit    where afterwards
I'll live in glory,    amidst good men,
enjoying joy.    The Just Lord is my friend
that endured before    here on earth
on the cross    for mankind's sins;
he redeemed us    and restored our life,
and our heavenly home.    Hope was renewed
with glory and bliss    for those who had endured burning.
The Son was victorious    on this venture,
mighty and swift.    When he came with many
men's spirits    to the sanctuary of God,
the Almighty Ruler,    the angels rejoiced
with all the saints    that had sat in heaven before,
living in glory,    that God was come,
heaven's king,    to where his homeland was.

Translated from the Anglo-Saxon by Mark Leech

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